Closing the Loop: Sat Bains and the push to save on food waste

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2014

In association with

unilever     To find out how much you could save in your kitchen download the "UFS Wise up on Waste" app.           Food waste is huge a problem. According to a recent report by the House of Lords 15 million tonnes of food is wasted each year in the UK alone with 90 million tonnes being wasted across the EU. This isn’t just a staggering waste of food in a world still wracked by hunger and famine, it also has a huge environmental impact. UK food waste creates 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, nearly half of all waste greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Worldwide the carbon footprint of food waste is equivalent to twice the global greenhouse gas emissions of all road transportation in the USA. One of the biggest problems is landfill. At least 40% of all UK food waste does nothing but sit in vast holes in the ground where it decomposes producing methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This huge amount of waste isn’t just hitting the environment hard but pockets too, with an estimated £5 billion a year in losses to business. In terms of restaurants, food waste is the heaviest component of any kitchen’s waste stream. With the cost of landfill tax at £72 / tonne and likely to continue rising, as well as the cost of removing and transporting waste, the numbers are stacking up against wasteful restaurants.         One chef who has decided to do something about this is Sat Bains. His two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham is the first restaurant in the UK to install a new piece of technology to reduce food waste. The machine, called a ‘Closed Loop Organics unit’, reduces food waste by up to 90% by using special microbes kept at an optimised temperature and with a steady supply of oxygen. The bacteria break down the food waste, reducing it by up to 90% by weight in 24 hours. You simply chuck in your scraps and leave the bacteria to do the rest. What comes out is a nutrient-rich compost which can be used to fertilise soil and help grow more food for the restaurant, hence the ‘closed loop’. Talking about his new gadget, Sat Bains said: “This is a great stand on how we’re going to reduce our footprint and it’s a great tool for a restaurant like us to be sustainable because obviously we’re all getting penalised for putting our rubbish in the bins.” The machine, which Sat installed last November, looks like a kind of hi-tech, metallic chest freezer and sits out the back of the restaurant in a shed which he had specially designed to house it. He hasn’t calculated the exact figures that it is saving him on food waste but he has a good idea. “Landfill is a killer,” he said. “The company that takes our bins three or four times a week weigh them and if 90% of the weight’s been lost through this machine – if 50% of that is vegetation and kitchen waste – then 90% of that’s gone; so we’ve probably saved 40% of all our waste. It’s a win-win situation.”     Sat first came across the machine when he was introduced to it by Matt Stone, executive chef at SILO and Greenhouse, two ecologically friendly restaurants set up by Australian restaurateur and sustainability guru Joost Bakker. Joost’s SILO restaurant in Melbourne uses a Closed Loop Organics unit as part of its drive to be 100% sustainable. When he found out about the machine, Sat got on the phone to the fledgling UK branch of the Australian company to see how he could go about getting one. The company is Closed Loop Environmental Solutions, an Australian firm that provides environmental solutions to waste management. It developed out of a packaging corporation called Visy Recycling in the1990s and was launched independently in 2001 after it successfully contributed to the Sydney Olympics waste management and recycling programme, helping to divert over 70% of all waste from the games away from landfill. The company soon moved to the UK to get involved with the Olympic bid for London 2012 where it originally concentrated on plastics recycling before moving, more recently, into food waste. Closed Loop’s UK project manager, Nick Cliffe said: “We’ve been going very steadily so far because you have to make sure that these machines don’t contravene any regulations. We’ve had to talk to the Association for Organics Recycling; we’ve had to talk to the Environment Agency and lots of other external people.” Now the machines are ready to go however and Closed Loop Environmental solutions are planning an official launch later this year. For Nick, despite all the clever technology in the units, it is the bacteria that are the stars of the show, even referring to them as “another member of the team”. The microbe in question is called Acidulo; it is an ‘extremophile’ meaning it likes extreme conditions and a thermophilic obligate aerobe which, to the uninitiated means it breaths oxygen and likes it hot. Indeed most of the Closed Loop unit's function is to provide the bacteria with the optimum conditions to breakdown the food waste; the rest is up to them. The machine comes supplied with sawdust that is saturated in a solution of the dormant microbes or ‘spores’. This sawdust is placed in the machine with a bit of water and it is turned on. The heat that it generates awakens the bacteria. This, combined with the a steady supply of air, a bit of agitation (provided by the machine) and regular food  (provided by the restaurant’s food waste) is all that is needed to keep the microbes alive and well and breaking down between 20kg and a tonne of food waste a day depending on the size of the machine. The resulting compost is nutrient rich and looks like instant coffee granules. It even smells pleasant, with an aroma resembling malt, Marmite or even, according to some, Christmas cake. It forms the ‘closed loop’ to the system because it can be used to fertilise soil to feed crops to produce food which might one day feed customers in the very same restaurant where it started as waste. Sat Bains likes the closed loop idea and has big ideas for his unit. “We’re looking at several different options at the moment,” he said. “The University of Nottingham are interested in doing a pop up farm in the square and they’d like to use our compost. I’m also talking to the Allotment Association where we provide them with compost and they grow vegetables that we then buy back. We’re also looking to give it to a specific farm to grow vegetables for us. There’s lots of different avenues; ideally I’d like to do all of them.” But it’s not just the short term future that Sat is looking to; it’s the long term and that, ironically, comes from closer to home – his own kitchen. “I’ve got 11 chefs in there,” he said, “and I want them all to realise what we’re trying to do. I want everyone at the restaurant to be responsible for their actions and, ultimately, when they have restaurants of their own, they’re going to think straight away – can we do something that’s really ethical and green now, rather than doing it later?” Sat Bains is a chef who has come of age and is embracing his responsibility to the environment as well as to younger chefs. Perhaps he sees giving something back to the next generation as his own way of closing the loop. Wise up on Waste App     To find out how much you could save in your kitchen download the "UFS Wise up on Waste" app. See the full House of Lords report on food waste here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2014

Closing the Loop: Sat Bains and the push to save on food waste